Meet the worst tech industry turkeys of 2014

This year’s flock distinguished itself by behaving badly toward women, abusing their customers, and shipping buggy software

roadside turkey
Credit: Terry Robinson

It’s time to preheat the oven and get those turkeys ready for basting – tech turkeys, that is. As always, the year was rife with embarrassing gaffes, arrogant behavior, and wretched execution of bad ideas.

Some of these turkeys simply embarrassed themselves (I’m talking about you, Satya Nadella) and some shipped horribly buggy software (hello, Apple QA team). But others pulled stupid, ugly acts, particularly the misogynistic boys behind GamerGate and the arrogant twerps of Uber. Tuck in your bibs, pour a glass of vino, and enjoy the feast as we introduce (in no particular order) the tech turkeys of 2014.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts

How mad does Comcast make its customers? So mad that a lady in New Mexico pulled a gun on a Comcast tech earlier this year, and a man famously made a YouTube video of a lunatic conversation with a Comcast service rep who wouldn’t let him cancel his service. I’ve never come across a company that delivers so much bad service to so many people so much of the time.

Comcast, which is also a giant Internet service provider, has been throwing its weight around by extorting money from Netflix (and maybe other companies) by slowing traffic moving across its pipes.

But when President Barack Obama came out strong for Net neutrality, Roberts and company responded with full-page newspaper ads saying there’s nothing they love more than a free and open Internet. Hmmm, can a turkey really change its plumage?

The tech press for blowing it on Bendgate

What a great story: Apple’s huge, pricey, iPhone 6 Plus will bend in the pocket of your skinny jeans. Fortunately for Apple, and unfortunately for the pundits who ran with it, the story wasn’t true. Consumer Reports did what serious tech journalists used to do: It ran a series of tests and found that the big smartphone was plenty sturdy. As they used to say in the newspaper business: Never let facts get in the way of a good story.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Even though Uberbozo Emil Michael made the outrageous remarks about digging up dirt on Sarah Lacy and other journalists who dare say anything critical about the car-hire service Uber, CEOs set the tone. The buck stops with Kalanick. He hasn’t fired Michael.

Even if he does, there’s still the matter of his company taking advantage of snowbound New Yorkers by jacking up fares during a blizzard and – more recently – messing with Lyft by having his minions book fake trips on the rival service.

Sharing economy? Selfish economy is more like it.

Vinod Khosla

In case you wonder why so many people in the San Francisco Bay Area hate techies, look no further than the coast of San Mateo County. There you’ll see Martins Beach, a charming site that has attracted walkers and sunbathers for decades.

But when billionaire venture capitalist and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla snapped up the site for $37.5 million, he decided the beach was too beautiful to share. He closed the road leading to it and fought tooth and nail to keep it shut, though the law in California guarantees coastal access to the masses.

Despite hiring very high-powered legal talent and using a bizarre defense that cited the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, he lost. Maybe he’ll buy another beach – hopefully one far, far away.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and the boys of GamerGate

Funny (not really) how many bad moments in tech come at the expense of women. Nadella, as you no doubt remember, stuck his foot deeply into his mouth saying that not asking for a pay raise is "good karma" for women, leading bosses to trust them and give them more responsibility.

Later he tried to walk back that remark, but he can’t walk back the fact that only three out of 10 Microsofties are female.

Much worse, though, are the boys of GamerGate, who not only despise women who criticize their subculture but actively seek to terrorize them. GamerGate – named for its Twitter hashtag – surfaced last summer when Zoe Quinn, the designer of the game Depression Quest, received threats of violence after an ex-boyfriend posted a long diatribe about her on the Internet.

The haters cooked up a flimsy narrative that had something to do with Quinn and a journalist who somehow conspired against the gamers. At bottom it was really about a strain of immature misogyny that runs through parts (but certainly not all) of gamer culture. Quinn was so frightened by a barrage of threats that followed the online attack that she left her home and hid out – as did Brianna Wu, a developer in Boston, and Anita Sarkeesian, a feminist writer and commentator.

Grow up, boys.

Apple's software quality assurance

“If you give me something and you expect me to buy something and all I can sense is carelessness, that’s personally offensive,” says Apple design guru Jony Ive. OK, Jony. How about really careless software development such as, oh I don’t know, iOS 8.0.1? Apple rushed it out the door so quickly that huge bugs surfaced within an hour of its availability, so it was quickly pulled.

Apple is a great brand, but taking a turkey out of the oven without checking to see if it’s done shows that someone needs to go back to cooking school.

Enjoy your turkey – and have a great holiday!

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